Last week on founderdating.com a question was asked about the use of a .com internet domain name versus alternatives such as .be, .nl, .eu and exotics like .io. Most internet entrepreneurs don’t save money on domain names. They fix a domain name for each idea and only then start developing their idea. But today more often than not .com is already taken. Do you change the name? Or are other domain names an option as well?

According to W3Techs, in January 2016 a good 49,7 percent of all websites used a .com domain name. The next one in line was .ru (also the largest increase) with 5,1%(!!). The country-specific extensions .nl and .be respectively gained 1 and 0,3 percent. The popularity of the more generic .eu extension was 0,5% and the (for example) specific extension .gent didn’t even make 0,1%.

Top domain names January 2016 according to W3Techs

Top domain names January 2016 according to W3Techs

Popularity of an extension doesn’t equal success

In Belgium, the results of the second edition of the Becommerce Cross-Border Summit were announced in November 2015. They then concluded that the Belgian e-commerce market (in the B2C segment) is dominated by foreign players. Amazon.fr, 3Suisses.be and Bol.com were in fact at the top of the list.* Typically: only one of those three uses a dotcom domain name.

The Dutch Twinkle100 gives an overview of the two hundred biggest online retailers of the Netherlands regarding turnover. The edition of 2015 was led by Ahold (ah.nl, etos. Nl, gall.nl and bol.com), RFS Holland Holding (create2fit.nl, fonq.nl and wehkamp.nl) and Zalando. Here two out of three are pure Dutch players and they all promote, except Bol.com, their .nl domain name.

So, a .com domain name isn’t required.

Google.be or Google.com?

Findability probably is the utmost important success factor for online sales. Although website visitors will increasingly discover your website through channels such as Facebook or Pinterest, findability mostly means findability through Google.

Google ‘recognizes’ different types of domain names. There are among others the gTLD’s (generic Top Level Domains) and ccTLD’s (country code Top Level Domains). In the context of the earlier described Belgian and Dutch market, .com (gTLD), .be (ccTLD) and .nl (ccTLD) are the obvious examples of this. Within the interpretation of Google, the country specific ccTLD’s are probably more relevant for the user when he or she is in that specific country. If you use google.be (to which you automatically will be directed, when you are in a specific location within Belgium for Google), a .be extension will gain ‘extra points’ from the browser giant based on a suspected relevance.

So Google implicitly says that, when you aim at the Belgian market with your products, you best use a .be domain name. There are of course other factors, on top of the registered extension, that have an influence on the final search results.

International domain names

For companies who aim at an international audience .com remains the most obvious choice, as stated at the beginning of this article. However limited availability seems to cause other domain names to be increasingly accepted.

Each company, private person or organization, established in the European Union or in Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway can for example register a .eu- domain name. This type is considered by Google as an abovementioned gTLD (such as .com, .net or .org). Start-ups also increasingly use the .io extension (originally belonging to the British Indian Ocean Territory) also unofficial a gTLD according to Google. Google for that matter says it doesn’t make a difference in priority between the different gTLD’s.

Tips for choosing a good domain name

The main rule for choosing a good domain name is that it has to be easy to remember and that typing errors have to be avoided as much as possible. How? For example, limit the length of your domain name (here, between 7 and 15 is the rule of thumb) and use words that actually feature in the dictionary. (The length of a domain name is by the way limited to 63 characters.) Try giving your intended domain name to someone through the telephone a few times to check if it appeals.

If your company name is already taken, you can combine it for instance with a generic word. If you run a transport company, try vermeulentransport.be. In advertisements you then can use, for example, capital letters to improve the readability: VermeulenTransport.Be. Avoid at all costs to use hyphens in the domain name, since Vermeulen-transport has to be pronounced as “Vermeulen Hyphen Transport”.

A domain name is not case sensitive. You can use numbers, but we advise against that. Just like ‘hip’ spelling and the use of double letters in subsequent words.

Cybersquatting

You’re of course terror-struck when you find out that your competitor is the owner of a web domain with the name of your company or brand. Cybersquatting means registering a domain name which is identically to or resembles the brand or a business name that belongs to someone else, meaning to harm someone or to unlawful benefit from it. At www.sidn.nl, www.dnsbelgium.be and whois.net you can check who has registered the domain name you had in mind, respectively for an .nl, .be or .com domain name.

Example: results of the availability check of the Amazon domain name

Example: results of the availability check of the Amazon domain name

When it turns out your competitor has pinched your domain name, it’s very probably you can still obtain it through legal actions. You then better let yourself be advised by a specialized lawyer. Also, when your domain name is in the hands of an unknown person in bad faith (you’re offered for example to buy the domain name for a large amount of money), then the law will probably be at your side.

Sometimes a well-known domain name is also abused to attract visitors to their own website. Your name will then for instance be registered with an obvious typo.

Where do you look for your clients – where do clients look for you?

If you can obtain a .com domain name as a company, you’d better don’t hesitate. In the more probable situation where your .com domain name is already taken, there are sufficient alternatives.

Always choose your domain name according to your target audience, target markets practical guidelines such as you could find in this blog.

* In the Becommerce Cross-Border Summit top-10 only two Belgian players were found: Colruyt Group and Proximus. Though Amazon.be is registered, it’s not registered by the internet giant. Bol.com is also accessible through the .be version, but explicitly communicates using the .com domain name. Bol.nl is taken by a provider of fuels.